Graded on a Curve: Cornershop,
Hold On It’s Easy

In 1994, after announcing their presence with a pair of EPs, the UK combo Cornershop released Hold On It Hurts. Eventual chart breakouts, that debut full-length instead positioned them as part of the burgeoning Riot Grrl movement. A shade over twenty years since, they reflect on the milestone not by giving it a souped-up anniversary repressing but by reimagining it as an Easy Listening album. On the surface Hold On It’s Easy might seem a joke taken to a confounding extreme; it’s actually just the latest savvy maneuver from a consistently smart band, out on vinyl/digital February 2nd via Ample Play.

1997’s “Brimful of Asha” and its corresponding long-player When I Was Born for the 7th Time raised Cornershop’s profile on both sides of the pond, but it also served as an indicator of significant stylistic development and effectively marked the end of their formative phase, an era that found them initially crafting rough-hewn guitar-based post-punk and fruitfully joining it with the influence of Indian music.

The early rumblings of the Brothers Tjinder and Avtar Singh, Ben Ayers, and David Chambers culminated in the arrival of Hold On It Hurts, a scrappy affair blending sturdy punk knowledge (the opening track from their “Lock, Stock & Double-Barrel” EP is titled “England’s Dreaming”) with a decided contemporary relevance. To elaborate, it was issued by Wiiija Records, a UK indie spanning back to the late-‘80s that gained prominence throughout the next decade partially in association with Riot Grrl.

Wiiija released/licensed items from Skinned Teen, Huggy Bear, Frumpies, Free Kitten, Bikini Kill, and indeed Cornershop, who are described by Ample Play in connection to Hold on It’s Easy as the only all male band to be a part of the whole Riot Grrl explosion. And listening again to Hold On It Hurts, an LP of fleeting melodicism, inspired stabs of post-punk, the aforementioned Indian elements (to blossom on When I Was Born for the 7th Time) and bursts of squalling feedback, Ample Play’s claim is easy to believe.

Receiving distribution in the US by Merge, Hold On It Hurts resides in a ‘90s indie neighborhood that at first seems pretty far removed from the same period’s Easy Listening-Lounge-Exotica scene. To be succinct, the former was defined by seriousness of intent while the latter was frequently maligned (by yours truly, even) as a goof-off/dress-up gesture deliberately turning away from the mainstreams of the decade.

But hey, Hold On It’s Easy’s emergence out of the left-field bleachers possesses an underlying commonality. Riot Grrl reliably stressed enjoyment alongside empowerment and amongst all the martini-swilling, the EZ-Lounge-Ex uprising helped to resuscitate forgotten careers and widen the acceptable sonic spectrum; i.e. each was a blow struck against lingering rockism.

Featuring Preston Lancashire’s Elastic Big Band under the tutelage of Alan Gregson, Hold On It’s Easy is likely to leave some befuddled, others ambivalent and maybe even a few rather peeved. However, numerous listens to the record impact my consciousness as not being incongruent with Cornershop’s objectives circa-’94.

Like the original LP, it opens with “Jason Donovan/Tessa Sanderson.” First drums then piano and finally horns cohere into a confidently sophisto post-bop meets Big Band mid-tempo statement that as it unwinds has more than a bit in common with ‘60s/’70s instrumental jazz interpretations, not of standards, but of roughly concurrent pop hits.

Frankly the bane of purists, that iffy situation could occasionally wield a likeable sense of “fuck it,” and when matched with fleet, muscular musicality, was even better. I really dig the crescendo where they lay the hammer down. “Kalluri’s Radio” starts in smooth but surefooted territory with a flourish of vibes and piano halfway between Ramsey Lewis and Martin Denny plus flashes of fluting, a glimmering piano ascent, and a little in the pocket trumpet blowing. The piece then picks up locomotive steam to arrive at a strategically clamorous orchestral finale. A sweet false fadeout ices the cake.

The agreeable “Reader’s Wives” sports a gnawing horn line, a sprightly rhythm, tight ensemble charts and a brief dropout to spotlight the bass. It leads into “Change,” which cultivates a distinct ‘70s veneer combining tendrils of Mancini-ish flute with interludes borrowed from Black Action soundtracks, e.g. swells of Hayes/Mayfield orchestral strings, and perhaps chops reminiscent of Philly soul, though the clarinet solo provides noticeable connective tissue to the ‘94 version.

Just as importantly, Cornershop aren’t forcing the issue, Hold On It Hurts’ “Inside Rani” swapped for “The New York Minute.” After an organ prelude the horn gruffness returns in an unapologetically audacious uptempo setting counterbalanced by some energetic soloing on trumpet and sax, an unexpected “backward-masking” section and a concise drum-spot.

Sporting as much chutzpah, “Born Disco; Died Heavy Metal” begins in a zone of unadulterated glitter ball funkiness grafted to a horn progression of near-TV theme buoyancy, surprisingly raucous speaker-panning guitar, a no-fakers allowed breakdown and an abrupt ending. From there the multilayered prettiness of “Counteraction” is where the above-cited Mancini influence really shines through, though to my ear it’s conversant with later-era Hank, reminding me not necessarily of the guy who OST-ed Touch of Evil and The Pink Panther, but of the total pro behind the theme to What’s Happening.

The exploration of large-ensemble West Coast-descended commercial jazziness “Where D’U Get Your Information” is considerable, though the lung-heft it flaunts is hard to tag to a specific precursor. “Tera Myer Pyar” reasserts the smarts of this endeavor, the male spoken English of the original adjusted to female French and in turn getting within hailing distance (a la Stereolab) of the Easy Listening boom’s more serious side (both versions triangulate well with “When The Light Appears Boy,” Allen Ginsberg’s guest spot on When I Was Born for the 7th Time).

For the close, “You Always Said My Language Would Get Me Into Trouble” reestablishes that vibrantly jazzy groove-machine scenario, the deep foghorn-like saxophone tones intersecting with moments of talk show band instrumental athleticism (Carson, Douglas, and Griffin would be gassed), hints of Stereo Demonstration Album-level audio-flexing, near-ludicrously brisk ‘70s-funk guitar, oodles of vamping, vigorous organ runs, and a jaunty finish.

As stated, some sober-sided observers will be unmoved and a handful might be pissed, but I find Hold On It’s Easy to be an intelligent and enthusiastic response to the inevitable wave of interest in all things ‘90s. Rather than fall into line with the typical nostalgia program, Cornershop has elected to reexamine earlier days from inside a different yet relevant context. All in all, it’s impressive and very listenable.


Purchase in the UK | Purchase in the US

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